In most cases, it’s impossible to accurately predict how political candidates stack up against each other in a primary or general election.
For example, even though both Bob Vander Plaats and former Governor Terry Branstad have run for statewide office numerous times, it’s nearly impossible to predict how they will matchup against one another in counties across the state. We can make some general observations, like Vander Plaats will probably do well in northwest Iowa and Governor Branstad will perform well in central Iowa, but those are just assumptions. We will have to wait until the June primary to see whether all of those assumptions will hold true or not.
The Republican primary in Iowa’s second congressional district is different. Each of the three candidates who are indicating that they are either running or plan to run, were on the ballot in last June’s primary. Two of the three candidates were on the ballot in the 2008 general election. That means there is ample data at which to look when you begin to examine how the candidates might stack up against each other.
The three candidates running for Congress in the second district are Dr. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who won the Republican nomination for that seat in 2008, Christopher Reed, who won the Republican nomination for US Senate in 2008, and Steve Rathje, who lost to Reed in the US Senate primary.
Thus far, Reed is the only announced candidate in the race. The logic behind his congressional run is that a solid social conservative candidate will do better against liberal incumbent Congressman Dave Loebsack. A couple of weeks ago, while discussing the second district primary race on WHO radio, Steve Deace forwarded the idea that, since Republicans went with Miller-Meeks in 2008 and she lost by 50,000 votes, wouldn’t Republicans be wise to nominate a hard working, young, rock-ribbed conservative in Reed this time around?
That’s actually a very good question for Republican primary voters in the second district to explore. The answer, however, is not easy as either camp would probably like to make it. Miller-Meeks won a very close primary over Cedar Rapids businessman Peter Teahen. Miller-Meeks edged Teahen by only 114 votes to capture the Republican nomination in 2008. In that primary, Miller-Meeks won eleven of the fifteen counties that make up the district. The only counties that she lost were Linn, Louisa, Des Moines, and Cedar.
Christopher Reed won twelve of the fifteen counties in the second congressional district in the Republican primary for the US Senate, but he lost the district to Steve Rathje by 850 votes.
Here is how each candidate did in terms of total votes received in the 2008 primary in Iowa’s second congressional district.
Miller-Meeks – 7372
Rathje – 5849
Reed – 4999
Now, there are people who probably voted for Miller-Meeks and Reed, or Miller-Meeks and Rathje. Still, the data from the primary shows that Miller-Meeks was able to turn out more primary votes for her campaign than Rathje and Reed were able to turn out for their campaigns. In fact, Miller-Meeks garnered more votes than both of her likely opponents in all but two counties: Henry County, where Reed won the most votes, and Linn County, where Rathje won the most votes.
The most interesting bit of primary data comes from Linn County. Steve Rathje crushed both Miller-Meeks and Reed in the primary. Rathje received 2973 votes, Miller-Meeks had 1604 votes, and Reed garnered 1187 votes. The data shows that a candidate who can deliver a big margin in Linn County can offset a poor showing in other parts of the district. Rathje’s relatively strong performance in Linn County compared to the other two means that neither of them should under estimate Rathje if he does decide to run.
When comparing Miller-Meeks’ general election numbers to those of Christopher Reed’s, one can really start to see the work that Reed’s campaign will need to do to win next June’s primary. Miller-Meeks won seven counties against Congressman Loebsack and received 118,778 votes. Reed, on the other hand, failed to win any counties in the second district against Senator Harkin and received 100,217 votes, more than 18,000 votes less than Miller-Meeks. But let’s not forget, Miller-Meeks also lost to Loebsack by more than 56,000 votes.
If Miller-Meeks and Reed are serious in their attempt to knock-off Dave Loebsack, then both will have to figure out a way to be more competitive in Linn and Johnson Counties in the general election. Miller-Meeks lost Johnson and Linn counties by almost 47,000 votes, while Reed lost those same two counties by 72,000 votes.
It is safe to say that both candidates have learned from their previous campaigns, and they will likely alter how they operate their respective campaigns. Reed will prove to be a much tougher primary opponent for Miller-Meeks if he is able to perform well in Linn County where he lives. Otherwise, it will be difficult for Reed to mount much of a challenge, even if he finds support in the rural part of the district.
Also working against Reed is the fact that turnout in the Republican primary will be much higher in 2010 than it was in 2008. The hotly contested gubernatorial primary will increase turnout substantially. The higher turnout probably helps Miller-Meeks because it means more than just the base of the party is turning out. If, for some reason, it’s a low turnout, Reed would have the advantage.
Both Reed and Miller-Meeks have a long and difficult road in front of them. As the race stands right now, Miller-Meeks would be the clear frontrunner. She has won the nomination before and performed better than both of her potential primary opponents did in the last election cycle. Still, she needs to show that she can once again raise the necessary funds to operate a legitimate campaign. If she has the ability to run radio and television ads and hire staff before the primary like she did in 2008, she will be difficult to beat.
Reed, on the other hand, will need to out-hustle Miller-Meeks on the ground and use his Linn County roots to his advantage. A lot of what Reed needs to do will be determined by the type of campaign Miller-Meeks runs. If she once again has the money to run a media campaign in the primary, he will have to find a way to match her.
Reed has assembled an energetic team of grassroots supporters for his congressional run. That should help him begin the process of building a grassroots organization in the district. However, while the second district congressional primary is only one-fifth the size of a state-wide race, if Reed wants to be successful, he’s going to have to raise more money and sign up more supporters and volunteers than he did in his last campaign.
The primary in the second congressional district will be fascinating to watch play out. Both Miller-Meeks and Reed are passionate candidates who have military backgrounds. It will be interesting to watch which of these candidates has learned the most from his or her experience in 2008. That candidate will probably end up being the nominee in 2010.
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